No Matter How You Add It Up, Dallas ISD's Magnets Still Top Best High Schools Lists

Exactly one month ago we got a look at longtime Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews' list of the best public high schools in the country -- the same list that used to run in Newsweek. The School of Science and Engineering at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center came in first on Mathews's list; the School for the Talented and Gifted at Townview, second. But, as usual, Friends of Unfair Park took issue with the awfully simple and not entirely revelatory method Mathews uses to rank the schools -- by dividing "the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or other college-level tests a school gave in 2010 by the number of graduating seniors."

And so Newsweek, which has just published its own America's Best High Schools list, ditched the longtime formula and instead rounded up a small "group of experts" to help with the tallyin', among them a Highland Park High School graduate -- Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach For America. Writes the newsweekly:

Our new criteria have six components: graduation rate (25%), college matriculation rate (25%), and AP tests taken per graduate (25%), plus average SAT/ACT scores (10%), average AP/IB scores (10%), and AP courses offered per graduate (5%).

In all, more than 1,100 of America's top public high schools supplied internal data, and Newsweek culled from there. That brings us back to Dallas's top-rated School of Science and Engineering, which is familiar with accolades (it has landed among the top-five high schools on Newsweek's list since 2006) and the challenges most schools face. Some 62% of its students qualify for subsidized lunch, and the Texas legislature seems poised to subtract $164 million from the district's budget in the next two years.
Yup: School of Science and Engineering is still No. 1, and the TAG magnet's still No. 2. And the School of Business and Management at Townview, which was No. 67 on the Post's list, is at 65 on Newsweek's. The Judge Barefoot Sanders Magnet Center For Public Service, 64 by Mathews's count, plunges using Newsweek's criteria -- down to 135; so too the School of Health Professions, from 68 to 261. But the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts doesn't change too terribly much -- from 141 to 150. And the Cosmos Foundation-operated Harmony Science Academy goes from 159 to 165. And I see Kopp's old school does well for itself: No. 31.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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